On December 3, 2016, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) honored Leann Bertsch, Director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, with the 2016 Tom Clements Innovation Award.
Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and Co-Chair of the Clements Committee presented the award to Director Bertsch, noting, ”how closely her vision, values, and innovations mirrored those of Tom Clements.” Leann Bertsch has been the Director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (ND DOCR) since July 1, 2005. Prior to serving as Director, she served as the Commissioner of the ND Department of Labor; as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Burleigh County, ND; and as an attorney for Legal Assistance of ND. In addition, she has served in the North Dakota National Guard, retiring as a Major in the Judge Advocate
General’s Corp in 2007.
She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the North Dakota State University; and later earned her Juris Doctor from the University of North Dakota’s School of Law. She was named a National Member of the Order of Barristers for high achievement in courtroom advocacy. Since becoming Director, she has been an advocate for ensuring that the programming and care fosters rehabilitation. In addition, she pays close attention to what can be improved upon within community services for transitional services as well as services to victims.
She is an active member of numerous Commissions and Committees; and currently serves as the President of the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), as well as the treasurer of ASCA’s Midwest Directors Regional Association. This year,she took part in the Warden Exchange (WE), which is a Prison Fellowship program
empowering corrections professionals to create a legacy of safer prisons and safer communities through the exchange of innovative ideas and best practices for the moral rehabilitation of inmates.
Director Bertsch participated in the Norway Project over the past year, where she spent an intensive week learning of the transformation Norway made within their correctional infrastructure. Through this experience, she returned to execute and encourage “humanity” within DOCR facilities as a primary focus of everything that we do no matter
the employee’s duty within a facility.
Through her creativity and ability to incorporate evidence-based practices throughout DOCR, she has made many accomplishments during her tenure as Director. Return on the investment of programming is at an all-time high historically for ND. This past biennium, she devised an innovative budget approach known as the “allocation plan”,
which adopts the premise that correctional resources are limited and should be managed as such at all levels of the criminal justice system. She championed efforts to address inequities of correctional officer pay and made significant advancements with the officer’s salaries.
She has not hesitated to call attention to the overcrowding offender population and resultant drain of limited state resources; and she has educated our state on the lack of mental and behavioral health resources available to those in need making it a priority not only institutionally but also within the community. She has brought not only the cost of
imprisonment to the forefront, but she has also shown how taxpayer resources are directly impacted by sentencing practices that are overly reliant on imprisonment. Her solution is one of accountability cooperation, and shared resources aimed at lowering the risk of
criminal victimization through the use of evidenced based practices.
Following her guidance, ND DOCR developed a DVD entitled “A Look Beyond the Bars: The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation”, which wascreated to educate and empower our state leaders and legislatures to take pause at the current reality within ND corrections.
Through her efforts, the DOCR is more efficient, more accountable, and thus achieves the ultimate goal of improving the outcomes for youth and adult offenders, while protecting the safety of the public. Her primary focus is truly on the offender and their successful rehabilitation. She has taken what could be viewed as a more non-traditional approach in
rehabilitation to help achieve her goals. She clearly defines her vision to all staff within the department, making it easy for all departments to come together in working towards, our common goal.
Director Bertsch’s commitment to public service, active participation in ASCA, and leadership, which is fearless in challenging the correctional status quo in ND, is second to none. She leads by example and encourages others to lead no matter their title.